Baldwin volleyball looks to overcome early question marks
The Baldwin girls volleyball team is facing a formidable challenge this season.
“There are more question marks coming into this season than in my previous three as head coach,” coach Chris Kelly said. “But it’s a challenge we accept and embrace. We’re not afraid of it. We’re up for it.”
Kelly and the Highlanders have enjoyed a three-year playoff run, winning WPIAL titles in 2014 and ‘15 with a combined record of 43-2, then finishing as a WPIAL finalist in 2016. They also have advanced twice to the PIAA semifinal round, and once to the quarterfinals.
Five members of last year’s team, which posted a 15-7 overall record, have graduated. They are Sydney Kaercher, Erin Ferrari, Sydney Yanchik, Abby Wagner and Maddi Sgattoni.
Sgattoni, a dynamic 5-foot-11 senior outside hitter in 2016, established herself as one of the best female volleyball players in school history. She was a four-year varsity starter, was named all-state and All-WPIAL multiple times and WPIAL Player of the Year twice, and was an all-section selection four times.
Sgattoni currently is a freshman member of the U.S. Naval Academy women’s Division I volleyball program.
“We can’t really replace Maddi,” Kelly said. “Not only was she a two-time WPIAL MVP, she was also a great leader on and off the court. We will look to make up for her absence on offense with several players. No one player will be able to fill her shoes. Maddi was also a great defensive player. We do have a lot of girls ready to step in and make an impact defensively.
“As always, our strength will be in our defense, serving and ball control. Those are the things we’ll be focusing heavily on in the preseason. We will also be looking to find the right mix of players to round out a starting lineup.”
Kelly greeted 10 returning letter winners to this year’s team, including starters Brianna Phillips, a senior middle blocker; Allison Murray, a sophomore middle blocker, and Mia Hampsay, a sophomore setter.
Other returning letter winners include seniors Alana Price (setter) and Erica Blanner (outside hitter); sophomore Ally Schenk (middle blocker); and four senior defensive specialists — Megan Moskiewski, Brenna Green, Emilia Zandier and Marissa Meis.
Phillips is a third-year varsity player who also has played club volleyball for three years for the Pittsburgh Point.
“I always have high expectations for our team, and I’d love to go back to the WPIAL finals again,” Phillips said, “but our first expectation is to get a win and take it game by game in hopes to get better each time.
“We are close, especially the senior class; we are best friends on and off the court. Even though the senior class is very close, we also love being with the underclassman, as well. We all love playing together since most of us have played together before coming to high school volleyball. On top of that, I think we will have a well-rounded offense this year. We are all very excited and anxious for the season, and to see what comes of it.”
Baldwin captured section championships in 2014 and ‘15, and placed third in section play in 2016.
“We have a tough section,” Kelly said. “I think both Upper St. Clair and Bethel Park will be very good.
“We will be relatively young, so there might be a little bit of a learning curve early on, but I think we can be very competitive.”
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.